BUFFALO, N.Y. – The 2016 NHL Draft featured only two 50-goal scorers from this past season. One was Kieffer Bellows, who was selected 19th overall by the New York Islanders.
The other was one of the smallest players in the draft: 5’7, 165 lbs. Alex DeBrincat from the Erie Otters of the OHL, who landed with the Chicago Blackhawks at No. 39.
DeBrincat’s 51-50-111 season with the Otters was his third straight 50-50-100-plus campaign. In 2014-15, he posted 51-53-104 in his first year in Erie. Before he entered junior, he scored 54-57-111 at Lake Forest Academy, which is about 45 minutes from Chicago.
Going to school just outside Chicago did allow DeBrincat to attend some Blackhawks games. But there was one issue. Growing up in Michigan made him a fan of the Detroit Red Wings. That allegiance is obviously severed now.
The Blackhawks have never been shy about believing in smaller players. It’s worked out for Patrick Kane, Andrew Shaw and others. With the likes of those two, along with Tyler Johnson, Mats Zuccarello and Cam Atkinson, among others, helping shed the stigma that smaller players can’t succeed in the NHL, DeBrincat is thankful for the opportunity.
“Anyone who’s willing to give me a chance I appreciate,” he said. “It hasn’t been the easiest road but it’s worked out well.”
Despite his size, DeBrincat describes himself as a “gritty goal scorer” and isn’t afraid to play a physical style. “As a small guy I have to play a little bigger than I am,” he said.
Some saw late-first-round potential for DeBrincat, but like many draft prospects on that bubble he had to sit through Round 1 and wait for Saturday morning before the Blackhawks decided he was their pick.
“It was a long day last night. I didn’t really know if I was going to go or not, but I’m really happy now and I’m glad that it’s over,” he said.
Being surrounded by offensive talent isn’t anything new for DeBrincat. While in Erie, he was linemates with both Connor McDavid and Dylan Strome. Both were top-five picks and are two of the NHL’s brightest young stars. Being around them on a daily basis helped the young forward.
“Watching them practice really improved my game a lot,” DeBrincat said. “You try to pick pieces of their game and use it in your own game. Just watching those guys and being able to play with those guys is pretty remarkable.”
It will likely be a while before DeBrincat will have the chance to crack the Blackhawks’ roster. For now, he says he’ll likely be back in Erie next season and keep working.
“Just improving my all-around game, making the Blackhawks as soon as possible,” he said. “It’s my goal to play in the NHL. This is just one step of the way and the work starts from here.”
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